Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Write for a living?

This blog - link below - is one I shall revisit very soon.
Elle Casey
It's all about what to do if you want to make a living writing books. She is a great advocate of having similar covers for similar types of books, so that readers can latch onto them quickly. I didn't do that with Viking Magic. I went  on a very different  path, and maybe that was a mistake. She also advocates having professional covers done. Quite the opposite to what I was thinking in my last post. (but very much what Catherine's blog was saying, now I come to think of it.) The thing is, am I going to bow down to the perceived wisdom of these two ladies, or am I going to go my own way? We'll see.

The weather has been roastingly hot today, so instead of working, I sat in the garden with friends and drank kirs accompanied by strawberries, pistachios and crisps. A good way to spend a summer afternoon. I hope the good weather lasts until Sunday, as we're invited to a neighbour's garden "do" on Saturday night. It seems to be the season for it. I think I'm getting the feeling  that not a lot of work will get done in the next few days.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Self published covers

Several things get in the way of producing a good cover for a self-published book, according to a blog I've just discovered. The main culprits are Laziness, Lack of skills and/or imagination, Delusion, and Distorted perspective.

Catherine ( writes wittily about the traps of self-delusion we can fall into, and she's right on many points. I don't want to be bothered hunting down cover designers and paying out shedloads of money for a cover I probably won't like. I say this because I cringe at many covers leering at me from the shelves these days. Mostly the digital shelves, I am happy to add. Bookshop shelves here in the the north of England sport some bare-chested warriors who could benefit from a bra, but many publishers still produce delightful covers. I also have delusions that I can produce an attractive cover because I enjoy photography, was deemed good at art in my youth (I know, I know - I'm admitting to the delusion) and enjoy the process of struggling with Adobe Photoshop. I also really like the sense of achievment the finished article gives me.
 I admit covers are important. But I read books that have what I think are unremarkable covers (Burial Rites by Hannah Kent comes to mind. I had to pull it from my shelves because I could not remember what was on the cover. The answer? Almost nothing. A fluffy sort of feather disappearing right off the plain white cover. Some of Lee Child's covers are less than gripping. I enjoyed reading Ian Rankin's Black and Blue and the paperback copy has what I call a non-cover - a plaque bearing the words Oxford Bar. You know my thoughts on the racy romance covers. It occurs to me that cover designers are probably - but not always -  under the age of thirty. It stands to reason that their choice is not going to match my... er, well, more senior perspective.

So what do we do? Stick to our guns or give in and here a cover designer and then argue endlessly.....?
let me know what you think of what might potentially be the cover of my next publication!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Writing? What's that?

I have the strangest feeling. Just can't get interested in writing. Weird. It seems long holidays will do that to you. I don't have ideas for anything new, and I noticed over this last week that I'm thinking up things to do that do not include writing. Maybe I should just give it a rest for a while, and come back to it when I'm ready. Or at least, more ready than I am now.

Of course there's loads to do after the holiday. The garden is a jungle. I've got caught up on the washing, ironing and mundane jobs like re-stocking the fridge etc. Tim thinks he can still run out when ever he wants and go where he pleases, and he can't. He's forgotten what a dog lead is for. so we're having to re-learn walking on a lead. The weather is good, and walking out is a pleasure. The tadpoles have all gone from the pond, and a neighbour said he had trouble cutting the lawn for us because so many tiny frogs were leaping about. They seem to have dispersed now, thank goodness.

I banked a cheque from Amazon the other day, and that was some encouragement to go on writing. It's about the only recognition that ever comes my way, so it is good to receive. Maybe I'll check out Create- space and see if that will entertain me for a while. It would be nice to see one of my books in print again.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Pet Passports

So let me tell you about taking your dog to France. It all starts with having your dog microchipped. Tim was done when he was still with the breeder, and on his first visit to my vet that number was recorded against his  name. Then in March or thereabouts this year, we spoke to the vet about him going to France. Tim was required to have an injection against rabies and certain other jabs were required - and had already been given as part of the normal routine of caring for our pet. We were advised to use something against fleas and ticks as ticks are pretty nasty in southern France, and the Dordogne is just on the borderline of where the nasties live. Frontline is the standard preparation, but Activyl, we were told, is a more recent and more effective substance.  The vet then issues a Pet Passport with Tim's basic details - breed, sex, age, etc and there is space for a photograph. since the spots of a Dalmatian are very recognisable, I did a "passport picture" and stuck it in! The vet records the necessary medical data, signs it and we were ready to go.

Leaving the UK via the Channel Tunnel was no problem.  Tim had five happy weeks romping around the French countryside, and we made an appointment to see the French vet in Vergt on 8th July. This examination has to be done within a strict time band before you leave France. The practice nurse gave Tim a whopping big Worming tablet and Dr Pennant Olivier checked Tim over and pronounced him "Bonne, bonne." He signed the pet passport and  a certificate to say that Tim was fit to travel back into England, charged us 52.80 euros and we were done.

Next day we drove to Abbeville, and the day after that (10th July)  we arrived at Calais, where we had to visit the Pet Travel Agency within the Tunnel complex. French staff checked Tim's micro chip, his passport and the vet's certificate, and decided everything was in order. So we travelled back into England. On the English
side of the Channel, in Folkstone, we drove straight through and on home.

If you go by overnight  ferry Portsmouth to St Malo or Caen, I'm told you are asked to put the dog in kennels on the same deck as the cars are parked. Some people insist the dog stays in the car, which is better if it is big Range Rover or similar. At least it is familiar with the car, but that deck is so noisy and dark and horrible I don't want to put Tim through that. At least going through the Tunnel he is in the car with us the entire trip.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Home again

We left just as the grass seed was greening up nicely. Now back in England  and home as of 3pm yesterday. Return journey easy-peasy. We relied on sat nav man to get us to Abbeville in France without going through Rouen, which we understand is still in turmoil due to the tunnel repairs. Sat nav took us round the western edge of Paris on an amazing string of roads. We disappeared into a tunnel on the A86 and re-appeared several kilometres and  many minutes later in Nanterre district without any knowledge of how we got there! I felt as if I'd gone down the rabbit hole with Alice.

Tim behaved much better in the car, settled into the hotel in Abbeville like a seasoned traveller and only blotted his copybook by barking at a labrador who had the temerity to walk across the entrance hall in front of him. Up at six in the morning because he wanted to go outside, please. Performed immediately and I soon drove us on our way to Calais where we missed the turn into Le Tunnel sous la Manche again. We've done this before, misled by signs for the car ferry. Soon got ourselves back on track and sought the Pet Transport Office where Tim got his passport stamped, and we were on the 9.20am train and back in England by 10am. It was raining in Calais and pouring down as we went round the M25. (London's equivalent of Le Peripherique in Paris). I suspect the M25 is under a permanent rain cloud - it always rains when we're on it. The fly-over that crosses the Thames at Dartford and was an amazing sight with  three stationary lanes of traffic, all with headlights on against a slate grey sky, backed up as far as we could see - all because there was some bottleneck at the toll booths. They must have had a terrific view from up there while they waited, but I don't suppose they appreciated it! The tail back went on for miles. We skipped through the tunnel and headed north.  As dh said, they never tell you have far it is to The North. We only stopped seeing signs for The North when we reached Darlington, so there you are - that's where The North begins.

The journey through England never fails to make me realise how much traffic there is south of Leeds. It is horrific. The north east clamours for motorway north from Newcastle to Berwick and Edinburgh but really, the traffic volume is not high enough to merit such a cost.
We listened to Radio 2 a lot of the way. In between lots of  music, the presenter was trying to drum up  objections to Baroness Scloss taking part in the enquiry on pedaphilia among Parliamentarians. He kept at it all morning, on the grounds that her brother once advised that a Parliamentary name was not revealed to the public way back in the eighties. I'm glad to say I don't think he was winning.

I also came to the conclusion after many hours of listening that modern pop music is dull. Each song has a different "voice" as we would call it in writing. It catches the attention in the first few bars, but the singers seem to have a range of very few notes and the songs are more chants to a driving beat that at first seems catchy but soon becomes monotonous. The lyrics are beyond banal in most cases. I was not impressed. Can you tell?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

And this too shall pass away...

Where have all those interesting snippets gone from Facebook? There was a time when I saw something every day - at least one thing I didn't know or had never thought about. These days it seems to be all about videos of animals or people sounding off about American politics or politicians or silly "can you think of a city beginning with E and ending with A?" games. Perhaps I have picked up a lot of unintentional  "friends" by accepting "friends" who have 795 "friends." Maybe I should be doing a little judicious weeding, and then I may get some interesting posts again. .

I hope Twitter hasn't gone the same way while I've been on holiday. I haven't been Twittering - its gets too complicated about passwords sometimes to bother with everything. Plus which I haven't been on the internet  all that much - far too much to do out in the fresh air and sunshine. Everything is so small on a laptop! I can't wait to get back to my big screen.

The feeling is growing on me that Blogging is not as ... how shall I say? as interesting as it used to be. More and more people have stopped blogging and readers seem to be fading away too. They've probably all migrated to something else that I've never heard of so far. There is a feeling of change in the air, but is it mega or only the usual drift away for the holiday season? Who knows?

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Last Time

Just returned from a long walk up the hill, along the top of the valley  and down by the La Peyrouse complex. We took a side path to the through the woods too, and it was cool under the trees. Coming back out into the sunshine for the march along the bottom road was hot and sticky work. Never mind; Tim is fast asleep on the rug, so it the exercise has done its job.

We're starting to think in terms of doing things for the last time before we leave on Wednesday. Tomorrow we have an appointment with the vet. to comply with regulations about taking Tim back to England. Then Wednesday morning we'll be off early for the long drive back to Abbeville, our overnight stop.We don't want to go through Rouen so I think we're skirting the extreme western edge of Paris. A tunnel is blocked in Rouen and it led to road closures and  mayhem among the traffic, so we want to avoid all the angst we had on the way south.

The weather weather broke a week ago and since then it has been warm but grey and cloudy with several thunderstorms and lots of rain. After a thunderstorm in the morning and a deluge of rain, the mist rose on the hay field last night and looked very creepy as it advanced on the mill. Today we've had patches of sunshine, but nothing lasting. At least the rain has the virtue of making the grass seed sprout and green over the bare earth the diggers left behind. Sleeping is a trial; the duvet is far too warm, but with only a sheet and a coverlet, I was cod last night. Got out and wriggled into "pyjamas" - a sweatshirt and leggings - and fell asleep right away. All in all, I think it is time to go home.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Rain, accidents and gatehouses

Torrential rain today. To go out is to come back drenched. I could go swim in the pool but it wouldn't be much fun without the sun on my back when I got out. I''ll have to settle for indoor activities. Thank the Lord for the laptop and writing as a hobby.

I dare not smile at anyone because I bit down on a piece of crusty bread and pate yesterday - and the French know how to make wonderful crusty bread and delicious pate - and my front tooth snapped. It was a crown, not a real tooth, but still I'd rather have it than not. The gap  left behind feels a mile wide and now I'm terrified to eat anything that isn't smooth and easy to chew. And  of course, when I smile, which I often do because I forget about the gap, people flinch and look away. I e-mailed my dentist yesterday, but so far she has not replied.

When it is too hot, Tim has to make do with running around the mill grounds, which is not a hardship as they're far larger than our garden at home. But when it is cool we take him for walks on the lead, just to remind him what a lead is in among all this running free, and a couple of days ago we walked past this magnificent resident which has its own little gatehouse on the roadside. It isn't used, and there isn't even a gate there any more, but it is a nice reminder of how things were long ago. Imagine the carriages sweeping in, and the gatekeeper eating his French bread and cheese as he guards the entrance.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Rural life

Finally have the internet again. Felt very lonely without it! No way to update my blog, get my stats or do any promos. Concentrated on Wimbledon instead, and not overjoyed to see Rafa go out this afternoon. OTOH, Shreikapova was ousted by Kerber, and Lisicki is still going. Seems like all the modern coaching, training, nutrition and knowledge means that players reach their peak at around nineteen. Or, as Tracey Austin says, they’re fearless at that age. No expectations, no nerves, no reputations to uphold, they can take a swing nd they’ve nothing to lose. I expect Kyrgios will be like all the others who break through in a big match – he’ll not get through the next round.

No workmen for a week, and then they turned up this morning and put some top soil on the patch behind the mill. The digger is still here, parked up like a sleeping dinosaur, so they expect to return at some point. It seems that nothing gets done in a rush here.

Bill seeded the patch before the mill pound with meadow grass, so now we’re watching it every day expecting bright new blades of grass to burst through. I’ve been coppicing the trees and cutting off broken branches left behind by the diggers. I couldn’t sleep, so I finally got up at 3.30am and crept into the living room (difficult to do on a creaky wooden floor). The frogs are croaking outside, making a hell of a din. Made myself a cup of Marmite and ate a chunk of bread and jam and began writing this.

When we drove into Vergt this morning I noticed tiny paw prints on the windscreen  - a squirrel has used the car as a vaulting horse. The birds and the deer are eating all the berries, quinces, plums and cherries they can find, and we find little piles of excreted stones everywhere. A bird flew into the house one day this week, panicked and started excreting indigo droplets instead of the usual white stuff. Another has dropped a bomb on the edging of the pool as it flew over, so there’s a nice deep blue stain on the limestone edging. I’ve no idea what will bring that off!

Friday, 27 June 2014


There are some fascinating buildings in this region. Old farmhouses, built with style and fitting into the countryside as if they've grown there. The terracotta tiles are a mellow shade rarely seen in the UK, and blend beautifully with the cream walls and golden stone.
New houses built by incomers follow the same style but look distressingly new in my eyes with all their sharp corners and knife-edge angles. They need a century or two to "weather in."

As I sit here eating breakfast indoors ( because it is still chilly at 7am) I can watch the sun rise over the pond. Steam rises from the water, which glistens gold. We've passed the half-way point of the holiday, and have maybe ten days left before we pack up and head for home. The sky is a wonderful pale blue, and I confidently expect that by 11am it will be too hot to do any physical work. I'll have to go and take Tim for a walk. He's agitating - he's ready to to go.

Just have to record how Rafa scared me yesterday. For half a dozen games I thought he was going to succumb to Lukas Rosol again. As someone said, the odds against it happening  again - 2nd round, same place - were astronomical. But in true Rafa style he hung in and found a way to win. Vamos Rafa!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

What to do on holiday

Holidays are a good time for reading. My latest is, or was, The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, all 550-odd pages of it (in paperback format). It was interesting, with a slow-burn curiosity rather than a gripping must-know-NOW feel to it. The opening chapters hung together but only just and in the weirdest way that is only explained by the very last chapters. If I had not been on holiday, with lots of leisure, I might not have continued with it, though having one of the narrators be a criminal psychiatrist was an interesting touch.

It is 10.15pm and the light has finally gone out of the sky. I forgot to do my blog this morning and the reason for that is Wimbledon, so I'm doing it now. There is always something to keep an eye on, hence the pic on the right. The days are busy with small things, such as walking Tim, weeding, swimming, making meals and sweeping the dust out of the house every day. With the heat so tremendous, we have most windows open all the time, and the dust blows in, especially if the digger boys are here, as they were yesterday afternoon. Today - not a sign of them. It would be good if they would just finish the job, and then we could do some tidying up once they've gone. But one digger is still here, poised by the pond, no doubt frightening the frogs into fits and the hay field is reduced to blank soil. Behind the house, the patch called the garden - more in hope than reality - is like a rough sea, all hills and hollows. It obviously needs more work.

La Brande - restaurant
I'm loving Wimbledon. I was struck by the American habit of giving their female players forenames I think of as surnames -  Sloane  Stephens, Taylor Townsend, Madison Keys to name but three. I'm also wondering if tall children are positively encouraged to be tennis players. They all seems so huge these days. We desperately need a top-up on groceries tomorrow and I was tempted to join dh for the drive to Vergt, but maybe I'll stay behind and get everything done so I can watch the tv. After all, Rafa and Fed are playing tomorrow. By 11am it is too hot to do anything more than laze in the sun, and after a half hour, there's a real danger of sunburn. So I don't feel bad about being indoors.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Happy Holidays

So far, we haven't seen a single mouse. There are few lizards, which Tim chases, so they keep out of his way. I’m pleased to report he hasn’t caught one yet.
The kites, the herons, the foxes are still about, and there are rumours of “a big stag” wandering about the area. DH saw a roe deer walking down the drive early one morning. Evidently there are red deer here, too.

Yesterday I cleaned the steps from the upper level to the lower patio. There were so many ferns and weeds choking the steps that it was only a matter of time before someone broke an ankle. The wild strawberry plants spread out tendrils that can catch the unwary. In the fortnight we’ve been here, the weeds had grown long the edge of the bolly, so I culled those too, and then started on the drive. An excess of energy! Now part of the drive is as wide as a three-lane motorway in comparison to the unculled half. I think the driver of the loader that brought the digger would have liked the whole of the drive done. He's taken to driving across the field instead! I hope the farmer doesn't mind.

Two diggers worked all day Friday and made huge changes to the field and pond. Saturday was quiet, and so was Sunday. DH found a small frog in the pool filter Saturday morning, whirling round and round in a six-inch circle. He was dead, but whether it was the dizziness or the chlorine, who knows? Sunday morning another frog was motionless at one of the filter inlets, but he was luckier. The filters were switched off, and he was still alive. I suspect there will be an outrage of frogs unless something is done to control them. We’re told that there should be carp or pike in the pond to eat the frogs. 
The weather has been glorious since we got here, but this afternoon we were melting in the heat when it suddenly began to rain. Oh, the relief! It didn’t rain long, and not very hard, but it certainly lowered the temperature. There are thunderstorms forecast for tonight or tomorrow morning, and I’m looking forward to them. In the middle of the day we’re comatose, Tim included. It makes me long for rain and cool air. When we go for a walk, we creep from one patch of shade to the next and amble about when we’re in the sun. Even at 7.30pm we come home longing for a cold shower. 

The thunder and lightning came overnight and woke us up. It also switched all the power off in the house. DH had to go downstairs, torch in hand, to throw the switch again. Creepy, with thunder outside!

Today, after the storm, it is grey and cloudy. Half a dozen baby frogs, some less than an inch long, were in the pool. It's beginning to look like a plague of frogs now that the mice have vanished.  

 One digger has been removed from the site, but otherwise, no work in progress this Monday morning. Annoying not to have it finished today. I shall concentrate on Matho and his edit, which is coming along in a very satisfactory way. I’m not rushing it. I want to get it right. The internet connection here fails with appalling regularity from midday onwards, so if I don’t get my PR and social networking done before them, it’s gone for the day. Must be very annoying for the locals, and certainly makes me appreciate what I have back home.
Also, Wimbledon begins today! Yippee! Wine, Pringles and Wimbledon! What could be better?

Friday, 20 June 2014

The tallest tree in the valley

Today is going to be noisy. There are two diggers working outside, one pushing down trees and the other smoothing out the "spoil heaps" that was excavated when the pond came into being. They do look like spoil heaps, too, because the land here is rocky with limestone. Farmers in England would think it was terrible soil, but it seems to grow exceptional crops. Tim is mad to be out racing round and round the machinery, but obviously we can't allow that, so he's pacing about indoors like a caged lion in spite of the fact that he's just had along walk up the hill to the Gite Rural. 

I waited and waited to get a picture of the old tree coming down. The two lads who were trying to fell it must have thought I was an idiot. I waited the best part of an hour while the digger pushed and battered and the lads chainsawed the old stump into submission. Then one of the lads darted away, Tim barked as if someone had come calling at the door, and I went to look out. There was no one there. When I got back to the window, the stump was down. Call me paranoid, but I think it was a plot...

It had been a beautiful tree. Two years ago, when we were last here, it towered over the mill, the tallest tree for miles. The leaves constantly whispered in the breeze that drifted along the valley. Now it is a grey wreck beside the pond, and an old stump that went several rounds with modern machinery before it finally gave in.

So I'm sitting here behind open windows with closed curtains, writing my blog and drinking a small bottle of Kanterbrau beer. It's a biere blonde at 4.2% alcohol, so I don't think I'm in any danger of being drunk when dh arrives back from Vergt with the groceries, The thing is, the beer is beautifully cold out of the fridge, and I was hot after my walk with Tim. Better than starting on the wine at 9am in the morning, don't you think?
Time to get on with my novel,

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Into the water we go...

I found The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro on the shelves at the mill, published in paperback in 2013. The cover did not attract me, but the back blurb did, and I was not disappointed with the story. It is one of those dual time stories set partly in 1928 and partly in 1955, and it keeps shifting between the two. It is fairly easy to guess the main thread, but discovering how it all came to pass keeps the attention. "...a journey which takes Grace through the streets of Paris and into the seductive world of perfumers and their muses..."

Vergt was quiet and peaceful yesterday morning. I took a couple of pics from the car as we zoomed through the countryside, and they'll appear here in due course. I have no idea what was in the big box on top of the van - in fact I was so busy taking the pic that I didn't notice the box until I looked at the photograph later! A new, very sophisticated kiosk selling home-made pizzas has made its appearance since we were here last, and a brand new veterinary practice where I had good fun trying to make an appointment for the 8th July. French numbers always confound me, but fortunately the receptionist had an appointment diary in front of her, so I could see the correct date and time.

We got the PH+ and put it in the pool and later I had a brief swim in the heat of the day. Most refreshing, but it took me ages to get into the water. The steps into the pool were deeper than I expected, and I wanted to find the depth before I plunged in. Cautious, that's me. Once I was in, it was fine, but each new bit of skin shrieked at the shock of cold water. Yet it wasn’t really cold! Odd how the mind works. I can't remember when I last went swimming, but fortunately, it is something once learned, never forgotten. You just don't swim as far...

Monday, 16 June 2014

A new week

Sunday was a quiet day, and the sun clouded over about midday.  Gusts of cold wind gave warning that change was on the way, and we retreated indoors, opened a bottle of sparkling Saumur wine and watched the men’s final at Queen’s Club. The day was cool enough to give Tim two normal walks on the lead, which we both enjoyed.

Monday morning is sunny, but seems a few degrees cooler than the past fortnight. The farming family are already busy picking asparagus and it is only nine o’ clock.  Tim is barking furiously at the farm dog which has had the temerity toll on his back in the dry grass cuttings on the drive. 

We plan to go into Vergt today to get some PH+ for the pool. (These swimming pools are so demanding!) Vergt is the nearest small town about ten minutes away in the car, with a population of about 1,700, though that number may include the whole commune rather than just the confines of Vergt. While we are there we plan to make the acquaintance of the vet, since we must see him before we return to England.  As I understand things, it is a case of a formal check to confirm the dog is healthy, a tapeworm tablet, and a signature on Tim's pet passport. Oh, and a fee of 50 euros. 

Until I've been and taken some pictures with my trusty little camera, why not type Vergt, France into your browser and look at the images that come up? (The link to it was so long it kept breaking in the middle!)